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After the Chesney revelations, Ireland must finally divest itself of the Catholic yoke

The emergence of the truth about the Claudy bombing in 1972 and the almost certain involvement of a Catholic priest Fr. Chesney has been much commented on.

It seems Fr Chesney was a well-known republican and his direct involvement with the IRA was long suspected by the authorities. After the Claudy bombs — in which nine people died — the finger of suspicion fell inevitably on Chesney.

Father Chesney

But such was the hair-trigger sensitivity of ‘the Troubles’ at that time, the authorities feared what the arrest of a Catholic priest would do to an already seething atmosphere.

So, the state, the police and the Church colluded to cover up Chesney’s involvement. As with so many other wrong-doers within the church, he was moved from one parish to another where he continued his nefarious activities unchallenged. Now the Scotsman reveals a similar story of another Irish Catholic priest who was sent to Scotland but rapidly became involved in terrorist activities. Once more, the Church ensured that he escaped unpunished.

These episodes are an object lesson in the dangers of allowing religion too much influence over the state. In Ireland in the 1970s, the state was still very much at the beck and call of the Vatican. The government could hardly move in any area without church approval.

The result of this over-weaning power granted to the Church? Abominations such as unchecked child abuse, the enslavement of women in the so-called Magdalene Laundries/Asylums and the involvement of priests in murderous political groups.

As the MEP and chair of the European Parliament Committee on Separation of Religion and Politics (and NSS honorary associate), Sophie in ’t Veld told Newsline: “The facts emerging from the report in the Claudy bombing shed light on the abuse cases as well. It is yet another demonstration that the problem was not individual ‘sinners’ who were abusing little children, but the fundamental problem is that the Catholic Church in general was almost considered to be above the law.”

The Irish government must take the Chesney case in tandem with the Ryan report and commission an independent and rigorous full-scale enquiry into its relationship with the Catholic Church.

For too long the Church has behaved like an arrogant, unaccountable arm of the government and of the law aided at every turn by a fifth column of Catholics whose primary, indeed seemingly only, loyalty is to their Church. Having so comprehensively abused its place in the corridors of power, it now needs to be banished from them. The Church must now confine itself to attend to its flock, and abide by the same law that everyone else is required to do.

History has made the incontestable case for the Irish constitution to be made entirely secular, something that would have seems risible just a decade ago. It is a move that would not be unpopular in a nation that has suffered more than most under the yoke of a theocratic regime that has abused its citizens without mercy.